Charity concerns

It’s time for Kansas lawmakers to take some action with wayward nonprofit organizations.

There are a lot of things felons can’t do in the state of Kansas. They’re prohibited from working a wide variety of jobs, can’t buy a gun legally and can’t vote until they’re finished with parole.

But the law’s a little fuzzy when it comes to allowing felons to start a nonprofit organization and manage hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.

State law gives county attorneys, district attorneys and the attorney general the option to file an injunction or restraining order against a nonprofit if anyone involved in soliciting funds has a conviction for “misappropriation, misapplication or misuse of money or property of another.”

In other words, theft.

A Journal-World investigation of the Tonganoxie-based Purple Heart Veteran Foundation discovered that the foundation’s director, Andrew Gruber, has a felony theft conviction. It seems as though the law would apply to Gruber’s situation, though it’s yet to be seen if law enforcement will take any action against the charity.

Gruber, despite the theft conviction, is in no way prohibited from running a nonprofit. But, if he does operate one, and someone in law enforcement chooses to act, Gruber’s charity could be banned from operating in the state.

The Journal-World investigation highlighted numerous other areas for concern involving Gruber and his charity — though none of these issues appears to be illegal.

For example, there apparently isn’t anything illegal about hiring the business of a close family member to operate all fundraising for a charity.

There also isn’t anything illegal about having only three members on the board of directors­ — one of whom is the charity director — who decide compensation.

And while it violates the norms and best practices of nonprofits across the country, there isn’t anything illegal about a charity giving only 11 cents on the donated dollar to those who are supposed to benefit from the charity.

Recent awareness of the issues with the Purple Heart Veterans Foundation and Kids vs. Cancer, both operated by Gruber, might be enough to prompt people to send their donations elsewhere.

But if it gets to that point, or if a county attorney or the attorney general takes action, Gruber could simply close down the existing operations and start another organization whose name tugs at the heartstrings. “Care for Kittens,” “End Child Hunger,” “Stop Child Abuse,” or any number of charity names that would warm the hearts of well-intentioned donors.

State agencies, such as the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, advise consumers to be wary of charities and check them out before you donate. But that isn’t easy to do for the average citizen. It’s time for Kansas lawmakers to look at ways to rein in wayward charities and mandate some level of best practices seen in the nonprofit sector. As it stands, there’s little in the law to ensure the hard-earned dollars of generous Kansans are really going to help those in need.